The report released by the office of the US director of national intelligence has found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The report released by the Biden administration says the Saudi prince approved a plan to either “capture or kill” Jamal Khashoggi, who was based in the US.
It is the first time the US has publicly named the crown prince, who denies ordering the murder.
Meanwhile, the US announced sanctions on dozens of Saudis but not the prince himself.
Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Washington Post journalist had once been an adviser to the Saudi government and close to the royal family but he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017.
From there, Jamal Khashoggi wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Prince Mohammed.
The report says: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the son of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and is considered to be the effective ruler of the kingdom.
The intelligence report lists three reasons for believing that the Saudi prince must have approved the operation:
- his control of decision-making in the kingdom since 2017
- the direct involvement in the operation of one of his advisers as well as members of his protective detail
- his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad”
The report goes on to name individuals allegedly complicit in, or responsible for, Jamal Khashoggi’s death. But it says “we do not know how far in advance” those involved planned to harm him.
Saudi authorities have blamed the killing on a “rogue operation” by a team of agents sent to return the journalist to the kingdom, and a Saudi court tried and sentenced five individuals to 20 years in prison last September, after initially sentencing them to death.
In 2019, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard accused the Saudi state of the “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Jamal Khashoggi and dismissed the Saudi trial as an “antithesis of justice”.
Shortly after the report was released, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the travel restrictions, dubbed the “Khashoggi Ban”.
Those targeted are “believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities”, he said.
“Perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil,” Antony Blinken warned.
In addition, the treasury department sanctioned some of those around Prince Mohammed: one of his close aides, former deputy intelligence chief Ahmad Asiri, as well as his personal protective force, which was involved in the killing.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is a key American ally in the Middle East.
President Joe Biden is expected to take a firmer line than his predecessor Donald Trump on human rights and the rule of law in Saudi Arabia.
In a phone call on February 25 with King Salman, President Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law”, the White House said.
According to sources quoted by Reuters, the Biden administration is also considering the cancelation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns as well as the limiting of future military sales to “defensive” weapons.